Regulators Hear Mixed Views On Sports Betting Rollout

The Gaming Commission has said it wants to implement legal sports betting in Masschusetts without unnecessary delay but also without sacrificing its commitment to consumer protection and gaming integrity.

Nearly every online sports betting company that gave the Massachusetts Gaming Commission its opinion during a roundtable Thursday said it would be OK with in-person sports betting starting before mobile or online wagering with one glaring exception: Boston-based DraftKings, which said it would rather see all operators go live on the same date.

The Gaming Commission has said it wants to implement legal sports betting here without unnecessary delay but also without sacrificing its commitment to consumer protection and gaming integrity. But in the six weeks since Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state's betting law and as eager bettors clamor for action, regulators have run into some significant hurdles that could complicate their efforts.

To gather more info on two of their most pressing questions, the regulators invited companies that have signaled an intent to apply for one of the state's seven mobile-only betting licenses to a roundtable and asked each: How should the commission approach a temporary license structure in the law that could mean the universe of mobile betting platforms would start in the dozens and then be scaled back to just seven outlets, and should the commission launch all betting operations at the same time or stagger the launch in some way?

The operators who shared their thoughts ranged from big industry players like DraftKings and FanDuel to lesser-known outlets like Betr and BetFred. And while the operators were not in total agreement on anything, the commissioners picked up on the fact that nearly all said they would be agreeable to an approach in which the commission would get in-person betting up and running before launching mobile and online wagering.

"I don't think I heard anybody say that they would be against that. So I want to be very clear, that's what I heard today," Commissioner Brad Hill said. "The comments that I heard are telling me that everybody is OK if we were to do something like that."

Only one company objected to Hill's characterization. Boston-based DraftKings said that it would prefer for the commission to green light both retail and mobile betting on the same day.

"Other states have been able to go live with both products at the same time and we would submit that we believe that the commonwealth can do the same," Chris Cipolla, senior director of government affairs for DraftKings, said. "And under ideal circumstances, it is most equitable, in our opinion, to allow all verticals to go live the same" time.

Launching retail and mobile betting at the same time could potentially mean betting gets started later than it would if the commission were to allow retail operators to go first. That's because the only companies eligible for in-person betting licenses are the casinos, slots parlor and simulcast centers that the Gaming Commission already licenses. Commissioners have already said they think it makes sense to get retail up and running first.

Most of the prospective retail betting licensees were in agreement Thursday around the idea of one common start date for all in-person betting.

Chris Carney, the owner of Raynham Park, said his organization would like to see the Gaming Commission set April 1, 2023 as the official start date for all retail betting. Raynham Park, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor in Everett and Suffolk Downs in East Boston are eligible to seek a retail betting license.

The parent companies of Plainridge Park and Encore wrote to the commission that they support a tiered rollout in which retail operators would go first, then the mobile operators whose licenses are tethered to the retail operators, and then the standalone or untethered mobile betting platforms.

"Within each phase, qualified entities should have the opportunity to launch on the same day, if all Commission requirements are met. This approach provides guidance to operators and the public while managing expectations and preserving the interests of operators, patrons, and the Commonwealth as a whole," Penn Entertainment and Wynn Resorts wrote.

There was far less agreement Thursday on how the commission should handle the law's temporary licensing provision. Because the Legislature capped the number of final untethered mobile licenses at seven but did not limit the number of temporary licenses available, the commission is concerned about the potential that dozens of operators would qualify for temporary licenses that could last up to a year, begin taking bets in Massachusetts, and then have to shut down once the seven final mobile-only licensees are chosen.

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